Should Top Gear UK Continue Without Jeremy Clarkson?

I can’t believe I’m actually writing this post. Jeremy Clarkson was fired (his contract was not renewed) this week because he punched a producer of the show Top Gear. If you need a refresher on the details, you can read the BBC statement here. I am a longtime fan of Top Gear (since 2004), but I can’t condone Jeremy’s actions. He is brilliant but also quite rubbish in real life. The BBC isn’t like a TV network in the US, they are funded by tax dollars and can’t allow inappropriate things like this to happen while being funded by the government. After Jeremy is let go from the BBC, it is expected that the other hosts James May and Richard Hammond will also leave. Therefore questioning the future of the show that was the most watched factual programme in the world. 

Its a small world after all.

Its a small world after all.

You may already know that Jeremy Clarkson resurrected TopGear in 2002 from a sleepy little car review show and turned it into one of the biggest TV show franchises ever. I discovered TopGear many years before it was broadcast on US TV while on a quest to find all the Eddie Izzard TV appearances. (of whom I was fascinated with at the time) After seeing Eddie’s appearance on a dvd recording of TopGear, I looked up the show online. I spent about half of my day at work the next day watching TopGear clips on YouTube. The first episode I remember was Series 7, episode 3. The one where they take a Ford GT40, a Ferrari and a Pagani (panini) Zonda to Paris and almost get them stuck in a parking garage on their way to shoot some scenic car p#rn on the Millau bridge.

There I was in my cubicle laughing with disbelief when they almost scraped up these 100K+ super cars on the exit ramp from the garage. It was pure un-planned reality TV at that time, and far more entertaining than anything on US network TV. The OMG humor in the garage situation was contrasted with the amazing and majestic panoramic views of the cars on the Millau bridge. TopGear was brilliant because early on they decided to embrace the things that went wrong and have a sense of humor about it. They were also great about balancing the humor in the show with genuine moments of awe. (especially in many of their travel shows). The production quality and editing was also really good for a car show and with that they singlehandedly changed car commercials forever.

Stig is quite proud of this. He might get a producer credit.

Stig is quite proud of this. He might get a producer credit.

At that moment I saw the show in YouTube, I was hooked. I had a family that appreciated cars even though we didn’t have enough money to do anything stupid with them. (Buick!) My brother spent high school and college rebuilding and street racing an IROC camaro (and a bunch of beaters) and my dad was one of those people who could name any make and model of car (1930-present) pretty much on sight. I got the car humor on TopGear immediately and identified with the sort of friendship that the three hosts had on the show.

I’ve posted before about the contrast in the hosts personalities making the show great. The love of cars might be the only thing that they had in common when they started working together. Even if they amplified their personalities to the point of becoming a character on the show, it worked. I saw the same kind of humor and silliness in my brother’s friends all those years that they were taking apart their Camaros and Mustangs in an effort to make them faster, cooler and in some cases, just function. I was fascinated by the TopGear hosts and the fact that they had found a way to make a living messing around with (other people’s) cars. How do you get that gig? And then how do you live up to the expectations of everyone watching you muck about like a teenager? It was really unbelievable. Part teenager’s dream, part improvisational reality TV and part relationship drama. Oh yea, with cars. After seeing TopGear, I never ever wanted to see Motor Week  again. TopGear found a way to bottle that energy that I knew existed within the gearhead/streetracing communities here in the US and sell it to the world. Brilliant.

After initially discovering the show I had to share TopGear with my family, and after a while I was able to get a region free dvd player and some dvds from the UK and we would watch the show together. (later we found other ways of getting the shows on to our US television) My mom even thought it was a funny show even though she didn’t care about cars.

We watched TopGear on most Sundays when I would go home to visit my parents and have Sunday dinner together. TopGear was a fixture in our lives from about 2004 until 2012. Those were really good times spent together. My dad passed away in 2013 at about the same time that I had a baby. I haven’t been able to watch much TopGear since. (we’re about 2 years behind on the dvr) My brother is still a loyal fan, and isn’t 2 years behind on episodes because he doesn’t have a toddler. We have introduced our son to one or two shows of TopGear and he does like cars. (but he would prefer that it was hosted by Elmo) Maybe some day when he is older we will get the old dvds out and show him all the seasons of TopGear and have that kind of family time again. Why do I bother to tell the story about my family watching the show? Because it illustrates the kind of connection that TopGear had with so many people all over the world with this particular formula.

The story doesn’t end there though.

I have told a very long story without answering the initial question in this post.

Should TopGear live on without Jeremy Clarkson, James May & Richard Hammond presenting? 

I think TopGear can live on without them because the BBC owns the rights to the concept, the name, the production. Everything. The BBC has the distribution network and the rights to keep selling a car show to the world. They can hire new hosts, write new content and keep producing. That said, I don’t know if the BBC should continue to produce TopGear without Jeremy, James and Richard. It doesn’t really make sense.

Some logistics for the BBC to consider: New hosts take at least one season to get their bearings set and develop a rapport with eachother. Sometimes you pick the wrong people and it takes longer. The TV watching public expects an amazing amount of humor, production quality and entertainment from TopGear because of its reputation. There is no way to meet the expectations of the public before they abandon a show (maybe 2-3 episodes?). The viewers had a relationship with Jeremy, James and Richard. It developed over years of inviting them into our home every Sunday. Its awkward to have someone new over to replace someone that has been a regular guest for so long. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

camaro n mustang

The IROC in all its glory. Note the burnout patches on the street. Also note the date-stamp.

If the BBC wants to continue the TopGear UK show my suggestion is to do a franchise re-boot and not a continuation of the current show.

1. Start with 3 people that are very well versed in cars but rather unknown personalities. (not all of them have to be men)

2. Make sure they are young, but they appreciate and know a lot about automotive history.

3. Make sure they have very different personalities, yet don’t hate each other.

4. Take them to some improviser workshops. Make sure they’re OK taking direction and comfortable on camera.

5. Introduce them to the Stig. The Stig stays. (Like many Stigs before him.)

6. Possibly rename the show.

7. Possibly add some different segments or twists to the segments.

And what will happen to Jeremy Clarkson, James May & Richard Hammond? I am sure that they will continue to make entertaining shows elsewhere in the world after TopGear. The viewers still have that relationship with them and the hosts take it with them wherever they go. I think a US network/company would be perfectly fine with a host that punches people occasionally, but Jeremy isn’t a fan of the US all that much. So, we will see if he considers working on this side of the pond. James and Richard could follow Jeremy wherever he goes because they are an automotive triumvirate and car companies will still trust them with 250K cars.

It doesn’t mean that things will be easy starting over. Jeremy, James and Richard aren’t getting any younger. I actually thought that the show would end someday because one of them was seriously injured or because they were too old to get insurance for those kind of stunts. (they have taken so many chances with pushing the limits over the years) They have to really think about how they can muck about and have fun in an age appropriate way. Going to the North Pole may not be a safe option anymore. Maybe they need younger sidekicks to mentor or kids to teach about cars. Maybe they broaden the scope of the show beyond cars? Maybe its traveling that they are into now? Maybe its new car innovations? Who knows, I am sure that they will have some ideas and may already be working on something.

Whatever happens, we will survive with or without Top Gear. (We have the archives right?) It was a great time in TV history and we will remember them for their innovations and their humor. We will still have cars as an interest in our day to day lives. After all, I still drive a 300 hp turbocharged Volvo and my husband has a cutting edge electric Chevy Volt. (its faster than you think) My brother drives a V8 Buick Lacrosse Super. My brother in law drives a white hybrid Audi Q3. (I don’t know what’s up with that.) And we will enjoy many more years of interesting cars because of TopGear.

Top Gear Season 17

It is almost that time again. June 12 26th the 17th season of Top Gear UK starts. The marketing gurus at the BBC have finally decided to run the same season in the USA on BBC America as in the UK. Last season this meant a 2 week lag time, but considering the editing needed that was pretty good. Now I’m seeing daily posts on my Facebook feed reminding me that it is coming back with some big social media campaign and we’re only a week away.

I am somewhat jaded about this season though, because of a lot of controversy that has surrounded the show and the presenters in the off-season. I have also been watching this show for far longer than most people (since 2004) and think it has been some of the best TV ever created.  One thing should be clear about this list, I love Top Gear and have been telling everyone about it for the last seven years, so these issues may be different than the way you feel about the show not having a long history with it. Some of my concerns to think about before you set your DVR/TIVO to record the season and commit yourself to 10+ hours of TV:

1. Jeremy Clarkson is an arse. We all know this, and he amplifies the rudeness of his character for laughs most of the time even if it isn’t his real personality. There is also a charismatic charm there, but he seems a whole lot less charming lately. There have been reports about evidence linking him to dating a female crew member on the Top Gear MPH Tours (he is married). He even wrote about it in a printed piece in 2010 thinking nobody would get it.  Well this whole issue kinda spoils it for most women fans of Top Gear. Most women find a charming guy that is married kinda interesting but a charming cheat isn’t going to work out for anyone. The mystique is lost. This whole thing was clumsy and a mess for someone that has been grooming his career for decades. The only twist I can think of with this story is to possibly meet Chelsea Handler if he does decide to get a divorce. With his wife having been his long time manager, this whole issue has put Top Gear in a precarious position knowing they still have to work together.

2. Richard & James have had as many TV series going as Jeremy made in the last 25 years. Therefore, I think they’re stretched a bit thin. I also think they’re both losing the newness of the experience that create the genuine reactions on camera that really resonated with the audience. (if you’ve seen one Bugatti, you’ve seen them all) Jeremy entertains but the people relate to James and Richard. But with so many super cars of their own now, is this really exciting anymore? I kinds feel like they need some time off to get back to their roots of why they are not Tim Allen or Jay Leno and why that made them great presenters.

3. They’ve possibly run out of new things to do. The show has even used some of my anonymously posted ideas (Bonneville salt flats)  Possibly because they thought of them too. But if I’m no pro are they scraping the bottom of the barrel? I do think they have created some of the best TV in history, but that is such a high mark to meet again and again. I foresee cross promotion coming with all Top Gear country teams (UK, USA, AUS, RUS, CH) pitted against each other in some kind of epic battle of automotive wonder, with subtitles of course.  I think they need to start looking further from car entertainment ideas and into other types of shows/experiences and bring the cars into them in order to keep the originality high.  The USA Show has a lot of possibility because it is new, and I am almost more excited about their prospects than the UK team right now.

4. There are BBC budget cuts. And it is hard to coordinate script writers, the best cameramen & editors on the planet and all the special effects and projects that go into the show on a smaller budget. Those sweeping helecopter shots aren’t cheap and all the automakers use them in their commercials now too. Heck Jeremy Clarkson may have to start doing his own driving. (check the windows when they show exterior shots of the car, grayed out, it’s not the rainy weather either).

5. And last but not least, They’ve run out of tricks. The comment from Ben Collins about wearing a curly wig to do Jeremy’s power slides hit me hard. I know Jeremy Clarkson is good at managing Top Gear because he has done many different shows on UK TV over the last 25 years. Heck, you’ve looked up the Motorworld show? Far less interesting, and in one he rides a motorcycle (very well btw) around the track at the F1 race in Monaco. Jeremy has had a lot of time to figure things out and evolve into what Top Gear has become. But I think the word is out about  how pre-planned and manipulated things are to get them on camera and ultimately what seems like reality but is not. I’m not sure people are going to be so fiercely loyal to a show that manipulates things so heavily and has abandoned the accidental funny that used to happen. Some people might call this jumping the shark.

The one thing that Top Gear UK has in its favor is that there is rarely if ever any good TV on in the summer in the USA. True, people are outside and not in their living rooms as much in the evenings while it is warm outside, but the DVR saves you while most shows are off season and you don’t have to compete for an audience.

So, will you still be watching? I want to but I’m a bit scared it won’t be like it used to be.

Is More Data Always Better?

google think magazine data overload obesity information ideas processing analysisThere has been a discovery in the online marketing and data/statistics world in the last few years. We have had more websites, products and tools created online than we can possibly keep track of. The terms to describe this deluge of activity we have been hearing the most are “data overload” and “information overload” from both companies and consumers. This Google Magazine uses the term Data Obesity to describe this phenomenon.

They ask the question, why is more data always better?

I think the idea of “more data us better” is common from people who lived before the Internet was prevalent. We had to work hard to find data. Researching something meant going to a library and looking in a card catalog (or maybe something called Gopher) and then finding your way around the Dewey decimal system to find that book. And then sometimes they didn’t even have the book because it was checked out or possibly it was just filed wrong because nobody understood the Dewey decimal system.

On a related note recently we got invited to my cousin’s wedding in Santa Fe New Mexico. My dad promptly went to the library and checked out 3 books on Santa Fe and New Mexico. I cringed. He asked how to find out the flights to book something without a travel agent. I realized I have been traveling since 2000 this way and he stopped traveling about that time so he never has. I introduced him to Travelocity, it was mind blowing and a bit of data overload compared with the OAG book he used to use in the 80’s.

The point here is that finding data was really difficult. People had control over its distribution because it was in print. When it became more freely accessible due to Google and other companies efforts we assumed this would be good, because people could remember where to find it and use it whenever we wanted. We never thought it would get this big so fast. Now travel sites are overwhelming, they have too many choices and there are too many of them trying to get you to opt into something you don’t want while being over charged for bringing a suitcase on a flight. This is just one example of how data has gone exponential so quickly.

Others of us have come to a data overload conclusion when they have 200 emails in several in-boxes, 1000+ rss reader posts from feeds waiting, several work projects, 500+ Facebook wall posts in their feed and hundreds of tweets that have gone un-read. This is among a climate where you have to follow-up with projects 5-10 times to get things done, post blogs/tweets/FB status updates daily to keep on people’s radar, empty the DVR so it doesn’t get overloaded and auto delete something you really wanted, listen to the radio on the way to work just in case something big happens and still find time to scoop the litter box before it gets full and the cats poop on the floor.

And the real purpose in all those tweets/FB posts and feeds is that you business changes yearly and if you don’t know about the latest trend and some real insights about it before your boss asks about it, you won’t have a job for all that long. (in digital marketing)

Having data overload be a “good” problem to have from some people’s perspective (as in that it is growth oriented). The democratization of publishing combined with tracking methodology and databases have all contributed to this problem, giving everyone a voice, a potential following of readers, a data trail to analyze and method to say something important online 24/7/365.  And then we have an even bigger problem of processing what is being said, figuring out if it is important or not and sharing/processing/saving it in some way if it is. Acting on that data is way down the line and many of us don’t even get there.

And this isn’t even the big problem with data overload. Where will we store it all? Why do tweets disappear from search so quickly? Because there are millions of them and the failwhale is full. According to the ThinkQuarterly UK, there are 800 Exabytes of data/information created every two days. It took humans from the beginning of civilization until 2003 to create the first 800 Exabytes, and we’re on a roll now.

Where does all this seemingly random data go? How will we know what it says without having to go into a database table and read specific field information? Where are the software tools to manage all this and still give humans the ability to customize the out put in ways that match the behavior or business purposes that we really need? Does any of this stuff ever get deleted?

These are all huge questions we have to answer as more people publish, share, create, track and do business online. We also have to weigh the possibilities of sharing data openly and locking it behind walls as well as how will people comprehensively find what they need when they want to as well as gauge the validity/accuracy of the information presented?

I’m betting on paid services for personal and business data management/archiving & Analysis tools. We will pay for good analysis, good data access & processing and good reliability/backups when we feel the pain of missing good insight, losing good data and just too much happening. Both personally and professionally. But unless you know how to work with SAP, SPSS, SQL, Oracle or a bunch of other systems data management is largely out of your control at this point. They are the librarians of our digital data and they need to find a workable way to Dewey decimal system it back into order and allow us to use it as humans need to.

Japanese Earthquake Tsunami Disaster is Different from Haiti

japanese earthquake nuclear reactor tsunami mapWithin a day after the Haiti Earthquake in January 2010 (7.0)there were celebrities on TV urging people to donate money to help those who were in need. Within a day of the earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 we saw the same attention drawn to the even in the name of help for those in need. Both had telethons on television pleading with the public to donate millions of dollars to the relief efforts.

This time there is a very different mood in the USA a week after the 9.0 scale earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan. (2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami) There have been some Facebook/Twitter/Yahoo links to the red cross to donate but overall the donation numbers I have seen shown on U.S. sites were very low. We haven’t seen any celebrities saying that they have donated money to the cause and our own government isn’t really talking about loans or donations right now in our budget crisis (and yet they’re contemplating invading Libya at the same time). 

We’ve seen the news focus their coverage on the nuclear disaster that was the result of the loss of electricity during the earthquake and the loss of the backup generators because of the water/power of the tsunami. This combined with explosions that cracked containment vessels and a lot of hot spent fuel sitting around in 6 reactors has an enormous risk associated with it. Sure, that is the big-blockbuster-disaster-film story here, but it is not the largest problem facing Japan. The newscasters have a captive audience worldwide with this topic because this is the one issue that could affect people outside Japan.

It is a weird difference in opinion that Americans have about Japan compared with the past earthquakes/tsunamis/disasters in Indonesia & Haiti. At this point in time it surprises me greatly that Americans have issues with a country like Japan to the point that they do not want to help. It makes us look un-educated and small minded. I thought Americans would identify directly with the Japanese, like I do but I’m not seeing a lot of evidence that it is the case.

Some celebrities have been cited making rude jokes about the Earthquake/Tsunami within the last week and Gilbert Godfried was fired as the voice of the Aflac Duck (he needs to be retired anyway) because of rude and insensitive tweets he sent. 50 cent also has been criticized for his lack of understanding and even a government spokesperson in Mississippi had to resign over tasteless rude comments (not really surprising for Mississippi).

I was not always a huge fan of Japan. In the 1980’s I viewed them like many people did, as the reason that US car companies and manufacturing companies here were going out of business. There was the assumption that the Japanese were ruthless and as smart as robots and we felt threatened by that. Now we feel that way about China instead. (I do not feel that way about China though, one of my best friends is Chinese and I’ve spent a lot of time with her family for decades and could never think of them that way)

 In the last 30 years things have changed. I think Tokyo and most Japanese people share a lot of commonalities with us. They love their cell phones & gadgets as much as we do. We’ve adopted their Anime and Video gaming interests as mainstream. Toyota/Honda/Mitsubishi/Mazda sell more cars here than American companies do because people really like them and they’re innovating with hybrids and new ideas like Scion. (I don’t have the exact sales numbers for this, it is more my impression from seeing what is on the road in Chicago). Entire movies have been made about the following for Japanese imports (Fast & Furious) And who is going to give up their big screen TV or computer monitor from Samsung, Sony or NEC? Or their Wii?

But the real change in perception happened when people started liking Sushi. About 10 years ago Sushi started getting popular in Chicago. With it U.S. audiences began to discover the california roll, spicy tuna and the joy of Miso Soup. Along with our broadening pallets beyond teryaki we discovered udon noodles, bento boxes, tempura, sake, mochi and red bean ice cream. (red bean ice cream may also be Chinese, and it is better than the green tea flavor)

japanese sakura flowers white pink trees cherry blossomsWe also discovered through Flickr that Japanese people love their cats as much as we do (Junku) and Sakura is the cherry blossom festival each spring.  A blend of Asian styles from China, Japan and other areas is very popular right now in home decorating, emphasizing the strong minimalist lines of furniture pieces and the delicate organic patterned styles. We also share our love of all things digital with Japan. And who can forget Sanrio and the super-popular Hello Kitty and her cast of friends? Can you get any more cute and friendly than that?

So how did I overcome the feeling of competitive anxiety with Japan? By enjoying the exported food. And the rich culture of preparation that surrounds it that makes it unique and special. Exporting your culture really does change views that people have of your country around the world. Through this I have realized that the Japanese are competitive people, but they are also very nice people and respectful of us as a country too. I’ve come to the conclusion that we can learn a lot from them about managing large populations in small places (like Tokyo) and how to continue to innovate in industry, manufacturing and the economy.

So that is why it bothers me that the U.S. population is not really doing anything to help here. Sure, some closed-minded conservatives will always have rude views, but I really think the people in America should do something to help.

Instead of understanding that Japan is a nation of people with a lot more in common with us than most of the world, a large portion of the U.S. public continues to focus on the differences. The bottom line is that Japan is an industrial/manufacturing/technology based economy like ours. The average person in Japan is pretty well-educated on a world scale, like us.

In fact we really do depend on each other a lot, buying/selling from each other and sharing strong bonds of family and friends across borders. We can’t just stand by and watch these nuclear reactors go out of control and not think about the people who don’t have food, water or homes anymore. It is a disaster just like anywhere else in the world. And that world has gotten a whole lot smaller in the last 10 years with the internet, skype,  international business and Sushi. And we’re not doing enough to help.

Bounce Rates on Google Analytics

google analytics bounce rate pages exits ratesI was just discussing what Bounce Rates were in Google Analytics and thought this could be a potentially confusing term and would be helpful to blog about. I also work with WebTrends .

We have a client that has a site with us that had a high bounce rate and a high exit rate. (50% for some pages) Anything above 20% would be something worth looking into in my opinion, but the differences change depending on the site, product, sales process and design so everyone has their owne level of normal as a benchmark and you try and improve from there.

They wondered if this Bounce Rate was an issue, as many clients would.

The thing is, it may not be an issue to have a high Bounce Rate because if people land on a product description page and then click to buy (or in our case, apply) is this really bad?

Well the qualifier for a Bounce Rate is that they viewed that one page and left. This does not include someone clicking on a link on the page to buy/apply. That would be an exit. They would not have viewed any other page on the site or interacted (clicked) anything else either. This bounce would be from hitting the back button or clicking the x button on the browser.

Exits from the site are considered people who have viewed more than one page and finished their visit. They may click to apply/buy or they may x-out of the window or they may reload the home page. (just a few of many examples) One tricky thing is when someone gets a site that launches a new window for a page you click on. That is typically an exit and new site visit. 

So, is this good or bad? For this client I think it is ok, because they are very stringent about who they are looking to hire and when people see the extensive requirements I am pretty sure most people would realize whether they had a shot at the job or not very quickly and either click forwards in the path to apply (on an Applicant Tracking System application site, (don’t ask, too many sites linked with too many processes)) or back out. It is very straight forward and very few other options are on the page.

How do you reduce bounce rates?

I never hear people talk about strategies to get more qualified traffic to these pages, I just hear about providing more info on the page to help them convert. That is a great strategy and if you can link exact search terms to the appropriate products/jobs with a page designed for one clear desired action then you are doing well. If you can suggest other related alternatives on the same page, maybe on the right sidebar, you are doing even better. If you have an email sign-up that says, not what you are looking for? Sign up here and we’ll email you when new ones come up. Great. But if you have a lot of traffic bouncing even then, you may want to look at the source. What words are your pages optimized for and why do those keywords not match what you’re providing or asking people to do? Maybe search is also not the right medium to find people based on the Google Insights search volume for that term and you are getting similar searches/clicks but not for what you offer. Maybe reel in the search efforts and go for more qualified means of finding these specific people like email, targeted display ads (by content/interest, behavior or location) or offline communication. (gasp!)

Remember Google Analytics (or any analytics package) is not just about a bunch of numbers and bunk. If you can’t figure out what the human behavior is behind the numbers or what the actual user/customer wants they don’t mean much of anything except that your site is up and running.

Campbells Soup in Smaller Cans With No Soup? Sucks

Ok, this marketing blog has turned into the marketing and product rant blog as I find more and more companies making boneheaded decisions about their marketing and products. This week’s winner is Campbell’s Soups. I bought a bunch of Campbell’s soup a few weeks ago because in Chicago winter starts in late October and ends in June. Canned condensed Campbell’s soup is an easy and not-going-to-kill-you type microwave dinner I keep around all winter in case of a lack of groceries. (or any brand for that matter)

This new batch of cans though is either smaller or they have decided to cram so many more noodles, vegetables and pasta into the can so that there is now no room at all for the actual soup. The vegetable soup I opened last week was solid when I opened it. It would not pour at all. I had to scoop it out in large chunks and even after I added the can of water the condensed soup solids inside the noodles would not dissolve. It was like water with floating soup chunks in it. Gross.

Today was worse, peas and ham soup was solid as a rock and the water did not blend well here either. All the solid peas sat at the bottom of a soup that used to be puree style. WTF? Is gas that expensive that you can’t include water or actual soup in your cans anymore? Is space that much of a premium? Did an MBA tell you this would work? I thought so. Assholes.

IT DOESN’T WORK!

This sucks, the soup comes out gross every time and I will have to switch brands again to get back to actual soup broth in a can. This just goes to show you can never trust an MBA to actually give you suggestions that will work. They always F up the product with lower quality everything and take away important features that the customer values in the name of saving a few pennies and paying their 150K per year salary.

I buy this kind of Campbell’s soup because it is easy to make and is edible right out of the can with minimal changes. Now I end up microwaving it until it is boiling and the soup solids still won’t dissolve. Well, I guess that is enough for this rant. Campbell’s has lost my money, we will see how long it takes them to figure it out before they loose a lot more people too. Hello Progresso.

Email management for overloaded email boxes circa 2008

I have noticed I spend a lot of time sifting through email these days. I have several accounts for different purposes and they fill up quickly with both subscriptions I have started and a lot of spam I never requested. I know that spam is just the price we pay right now for an app like email, but I hope that someday the spammers are put out of business because of the awful things they do stealing identities and personal information.

Anyway, my post wasn’t supposed to be about spam. It was about email volume circa 2008. I do get a lot of spam, and because one email address I have dates back to 1996 that one gets about 50% spam.  The spam filter I have does catch about 80% of it but the other 20% is annoying and dangerous.

The other 60% of that old email address mail is a lot of subscriptions since I am more likely to read an email than go find a bookmark of a blog every few days. The web based email is about 25% spam and the work email is maybe 1% spam, they are pretty good at blocking it.

I found this feedblitz and email update technology immensely helpful in the beginning since I check email anyway and it was a way to kill 2 tasks with one stone. Now though, things have gotten out of hand. I estimate that I get about 200 emails per day between 3 accounts. That is a bit more than I intended. True, it may be time to unsubscribe to some newsletters and updates but then it might go down to 150. Knowing this, you might understand why I gave up on RSS feeds in 2004.

Email is just too ingrained into our business and consumer culture as a communication medium. Or at least it is for Gen-Xers like myself. I do feel the pressure of the millennials and Gen-Yers to go to a social networking communication platform and I have profiles on all the major sites with plenty of contacts/friends but it’s just not home base for me. For a while one circle of people I knew were using MySpace as a hub for communication, but they were in the Arts, as many MySpacers are. Now that I no longer have time for extra cirricular activities I have lost touch with them and my MySpace page. I also have an online client email I use for personal stuff and of course the ubiquitous work email. I also have a 4th email that I don’t use because 3 is really enough.

I was reading this article today about how people manage their emails and BAM it was exactly how I managed them without me even really thinking about how I categorize things. Literally things just evolved the way they worked best over the past 10 years. The old old email became a place for all the sign ups you had to complete for one reason or another, login info for registrations and updates and such but not time sensitive stuff because I moved my most critical emails over to the web based email when it got too cluttered and I wanted to be able to access it anywhere rather than just at home on my computer in outlook. The second web based email also became a place to move personal communication off the work email account since in the beginning there was no line between them and then there suddenly was one day in about 2004. The work account also gets some alerts and such but only work related. (yes, that’s a blurry line since its online media and marketing that I work in)

Overall, I was surprised that I fit their archetype “to a tee” and that I evolved this way without even thinking of it. The gen-x and gen-y people have a hard time separating work from personal (especially if you work in onlinemedia, its all online anyway at the click of a mouse, it only takes a second!) and this will only provide harder in the future as more is expected of us as we balance family and work all in less time. I hope this setup satisfies the need for different urgencies, disclosures and personalizations of emails as well as productivity and time management. All this digital overload is consuming in a very empty way really. I feel like I must look through all this and read it every day yet very little is really going to impact my work or my life. I am mostly off email on weekends and I find it not that different but I have more time suddenly. Hmmm…must pare down email newsletters soon.

I have a compulsion to keep my email boxes cleaned out once a day and reply to anything that needs it from work or personal in 24 hours. I wonder if I will be able to keep that up in the future and if I will have to integrate more mandatory social networking at some point to keep up with those 10 years younger than me? 

I also recently started using the rescue time application to log and review where I am in a day and how much is actually spent on email and work. I have since cut my work email time in 1/2 and ditto for the personal email also. It’s a good application for self time management, but I wouldn’t want to use it for work purposes officially. I like that I have control over it and am not evaluated based on it since I have my days where I am not as productive. But the application helps me get back on track and out of the funk quicker.

As a consumer do I like being emailed by companies? Sometimes yes. If I opt in to your email I may be marginally or really interested in hearing from you depending on how much your product fits my life and work. If the emails provide no help or relevance whatsoever, they will get deleted and unsubscribed within a few months. If you send me discounts, new product info or other locally relevant information or content I am really into that helps me do my job, I am happy to read and click to help your ROI. I think email is better than direct mail because of the targeting and the lack of paper it uses. (save the trees) I would much rather an email from most companies than a flyer in the mail box. Plus it gives me the control to turn it off when it’s no longer relevant. Trust me, I will re-subscribe if the situation changes, I am a newsletter nut, that is for sure. And I think my generation is in general. But don’t expect us to buy-buy-buy stuff just because you emailed it to us. If we don’t need or want it we just consider the offer and decide no this time. It’s ok, we will find you when we need it, even if it is a month or two from now. And frequency is an issue. I am annoyed by some weekly emails because how often do you really need to know about the same product over and over again? Monthly is fine, or how about every other week?  

So, all of this is kind of my unwritten rules of email, work and business, and I hope that we continue to figure things out to make communication and information finding more efficient and less time consuming while still productive. Now if I could only find a way to maintain 3 blogs more efficiently too.